Charli is My Angel


I remember Charli’s wide gap-toothed smile, vibrant green eyes and warm puffy cheeks that you can’t help but squeeze. I remember her chuckles of happiness, the songs she sang that made her feel like she was a pop star, which actually sounded like the adorable little girl, Boo, in Monsters Inc. But I also remember Charli’s pale, stick-like body and puffy cheeks flushed dangerously red, resting on the hospital bed on May 20, 2009, and my mom and dad holding back their avalanche of tears. I couldn’t bear the needles that pierced into my little sister, sending her vocal chords to their highest pitch. The safety instructions and procedures consumed my mom’s day, informing her on how to properly inject her daughter with a needle every time she wants to eat food. Guests brought flowers, they sent kisses, gave hugs and I remember all of it, especially being the ghost like sister who was invisible but saw everything.    

Very quickly I discovered that things were going to get worse before they got better, and they certainly did. Charli was already so thin that it was hard to give her shots because of the limited amount of fat on her body. The first day she came back home from the hospital, we attempted to give her a shot but her arms and legs flailed, as if she were shaking bugs off of herself, and the shot resulted in so much pain. This continued for weeks, and every time she cried, her pain settled inside of me, as I begged for this to end. But I knew that if my desire was fulfilled, I would no longer have a sister by my side. I saved the tears for my puffy pillow that always reminded me of Charli’s cheeks.

I thought about her diagnosis a lot, and everyone asked me questions about Charli being a person with type 1 diabetes, but they rarely asked how I was doing. I was only seven years old then, but I knew that this was my life too; seeing needles all day, the whimpers of an innocent girl and the waves of questions and concerns flowing through my brain nonstop. I questioned if I would ever see that wide gap-toothed smile again. But of course, I did. If you don’t see a 4-year-old smile within 24 hours, they either didn’t get enough sugar in their system or something is really wrong. Seeing her happy made me happy, her feelings bounced back to me. It took so long for Charli to accept that this was what her life would be like now, but she was only 4 years old, and she didn’t know that the shots were keeping her from dying. All she understood was the pain they caused her.

A couple years later, my family was staying with my Uncle Peter and Auntie Susie in their house in Palm Desert. Our parents had tucked us into bed, and I felt so relaxed I sank down into the sheets like quicksand. At about 1:30 a.m., I heard a high-pitched howl from the bed next to me. Being the little wuss I was, instead of turning on my light to see if an axe murderer was killing my sister, I ducked under the covers and used them as a force field. Footsteps scampered near me, muffled wails of sentences jumped across the room, dad pulled back my covers and the lights nearly blinded me. To my right, my sister had her knees tucked into her chest, rocking back and forth, head vibrating, blue lips quivering and her bright greens eyes were nearly out of the sockets, staring straight forward in shock.

Mom pulled Charli into her arms, and asked Dad what the hell was happening, but I heard nothing, only read the words that crossed my mom’s lips. It’s like I was deaf, I took in my surroundings, and tried to piece together the scenario. Dad turned to me and ordered me to get some orange juice from the kitchen to help get her blood sugars up, but when Dad tried to make her drink it, the liquid splashed out of her mouth. We tried many times while we waited for the paramedics. The life sank from her face and body but her big cheeks never stopped moving. About five minutes later, Charli jolted forward and her color spread slowly through her. Relief made Mom, Dad and me sigh and attack Charli, who was very confused, with hugs. “What happened? Why am I sweating? Why is there an ambulance outside?” Charli questioned. That was the night she had her first diabetic seizure. She didn’t remember any of it.

Once we were left in our room in silence, Charli said, “Sydney, I didn’t tell Mommy and Daddy but I’m going to tell you. I only remember that I was in the ocean during a storm, and I was about to be attacked by a shark.” I envisioned swimming in salty water under a crystal clear sky, and Charli was beside me, lapping water under her hands that sent wakes out to her sides. A fin drifted by and teeth slashed and whipped at Charli, but I never felt any pain. I swam to an island for safety, but Charli couldn’t follow. She screamed for help in the opposite direction, completely oblivious to the fact that unreachable help was a couple yards behind her. This was my dream, but was also reality. The shark was the disease that was attracting attention and holding Charli back from the island of safety, and I couldn’t do anything but stand and watch, unable to reach out and help.

Sydney McCarter 2My invisibility faded slowly, but I didn’t mind because the only help I could offer was support, which Charli already had a lot of. I knew that Charli got more attention because of diabetes, and I certainly wouldn’t want to get more attention by having a disease. The storm of crazy events calmed down. As our family got into a routine with diabetes, my jealousy for attention decreased. We learned to work together and how to be prepared for the worst. We got technology that transformed our way of managing diabetes, but it is still far from making the broken part of Charli whole.

Although having a sister with type 1 diabetes has negative effects, it also has positive outcomes. Having to watch someone I love be in pain has made me mentally tough, and I’ve learned that you have to support the people you love when they are in a time of need. I’ve become more responsible with my decisions, and have matured faster than other kids my age. I learned that no matter what, you have to be there for your siblings, that they are your best friends and you will know them the longest out of anyone in the world. That doesn’t mean that you never fight; I have plenty of fights with my sister where we throw each other under the bus. I just say “I love you!” at the end and it’s all good—most of the time.

Learning about type 1 diabetes has given me knowledge about life, and how to deal with situations where you feel like you’re stuck in a deep dark hole with no ladder. I’ve learned that my sister is a brave, beautiful and strong girl. I don’t think I could ever do what she does. She is my idol, my role model, my best friend. Charli is my angel.

WRITTEN BY Sydney McCarter, POSTED 10/26/15, UPDATED 09/20/22

Sydney is a compassionate and loving 14-year-old with an infectious laugh and bubbly personality. She has a strong sense for adventure and travel, and loves volleyball, swimming, surfing, music and guitar. Sydney is her little sister Charli’s biggest supporter and protector, admiring Charli’s strength and bravery in dealing with type 1 diabetes (T1D) for over six years.